The boys’ families had asked the administrative court in the Paris suburb of Bobigny for a ruling on Friday, arguing that the students had been consigned to a sort of no-man’s land at the Louise-Michel high school.
The ruling was the latest twist in France’s attempt to apply a new law that bans conspicuous religious symbols at school such as Islamic headscarves (hijab), Jewish skull caps and large Christian crosses.
Turbans had been left out of the marathon debate over the measure, but Sikhs later learned that the head covering was also subject to the ban.
Sikhs petitioned the court after the boys were kept out of class for refusing to remove their turbans. The court said the school had to convene a disciplinary hearing within 15 days to decide the outcome of their cases.
“I will never take it off. I’ve had it forever, I’ll have it until my death”
Disciplinary hearings, which can end in expulsion, are convened when school authorities are unable to persuade a student to respect the law.
For traditional Sikhs, external appearance is sacred, and men and boys who practise the faith wear turbans to cover their unshorn hair.
One of the students, Bikramjit Singh, said he was not happy with the decision because he still remained excluded from school. But he vowed never to take off his turban.
“There will be a disciplinary council, where they will decide whether to let me stay or expel me,” said Singh. “I will never take it off. I’ve had it forever. I’ll have it until my death.”
The Muslim head covering (hijab)
The hijab was the main target of the law, which came into effect with the beginning of school in September, because of concerns that growing “Muslim fundamentalism” in France is weakening the nation’s secular roots.
At least eight Muslim girls were expelled in the past few days for refusing to remove their headscarves. They included a 14-year-old in the Burgundy town of Macon who was expelled on Thursday.
A leading Muslim organisation has alleged that officials are abusing the law by expelling Muslim girls who are wearing printed bandanas – not the hijab.
The head of the Union of Islamic Organisations of France urged girls expelled for wearing bandannas to take their cases to court.
The organisation’s president Lhaj Thami Breze also said his group would no longer be “blackmailed” into silence by concern over two French hostages held in Iraq.
The fate of the kidnapped French
The kidnappers demanded that France abolish the law, forcing French Muslim leaders into a low profile so as not to endanger the hostages’ lives. That wall of silence began cracking after the rash of expulsions from schools this week – at least three for wearing bandannas.
The Muslim group had counselled girls to wear stylish bandannas, instead of the more usual large, plain-coloured scarves, in an attempt to circumvent the law. But some schools reject the printed cloth, too.
About 10 expulsions were expected before the week was out. The education ministry said that 62 other pending cases would go before school disciplinary councils in November.
The education ministry proceeded cautiously with the expulsions out of concern for the hostages in Iraq, journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who entered their third month of captivity this week.